1. Funny how one quarter can change things. During the games I’m always taking mental notes trying to come up with my thoughts for that particular game. Tonight, I had some not-so-nice things to type through three quarters. I had already decided to dedicate one thought to how much I detested the way Dennis played. I was highly frustrated with not only his performance, but his general body language and all around effort. Well, I learned awhile back to NEVER start writing the blog until the game is over. Tonight was case in point. By midway through the fourth, I was completely relaxed, completely content, and quite pleased with Dennis in particular. Russ had a monster game (more on that later) but with PG (among others) missing, he really needed Dennis to help push them over. It took awhile, but Dennis responded. He’s the one that made the big shots when the game was still in the balance late in third/early in the fourth.

2. Not having PG may have been a blessing in disguise for Russ. It gave him more wiggle room tonight. He responded from the opening possession— he looked for his own offense early and often and got off to a hot start. He cooled briefly, but during that aforementioned critical stretch he did not force the issue. He recognized that Dennis was hot and got him the ball. He also had some great assists in the open floor. We’ve been watching Russ transform his approach for weeks now, but tonight was the first time we saw that transformation coupled with a highly efficient shooting night as well. If he is able to settle somewhere around where he was tonight, the Thunder backcourt duo will be completely unstoppable. I know some have questioned whether Russ’s recent shooting struggles are a sign of physical regression, but I really don’t see any evidence to support that. I think it’s been more of a mental/transformative process that has left him a bit off-kilter. Tonight, he was on-kilter and he looked fantastic. If this is physical regression, I hope I suffer the same level of “regression.”

3. As you might imagine, I consider myself quite the Thunder guru. I don’t think there is much of anything about the team that I don’t know. But I’ll admit to not knowing much of anything about Abdel Nader. I saw they acquired him over the summer, but I didn’t even bother to look him up because I figured he was just roster fodder. They had a couple of spots open and Presti routinely snags younger guys that fit a certain mold to fill those spots. Sort of a “why not?” type of move that I suspected would result in some guy named Nader either wearing skinny slacks and a suit jacket every night or some dude named Nader waving a towel at the end of the bench every night. Either way, I didn’t think we’d ever be talking about some dude named Nader helping them win an actual game. But some dude named Nader did just that tonight. This is really all we’ve seen of him. Early in the year he got a few minutes here and there in non-garbage time situations, but the sample was very limited and he made no impression on me either way. Tonight, well, he looked pretty darn good. I think the biggest thing that stands out is that it looks like he can shoot. His three stroke appeared solid and he looked smooth at the free throw line. I was playing close enough attention to see if he was contributing much defensively, but he did have some nice drives/finishes. No PG, no Abrines, no TFerg… this was obviously a night of opportunity for Nader and not sure if he will get many more. But he really took advantage tonight and I would think Donovan is at least curious to perhaps want to see more.

4. The standings are bananas. Consider this… the Thunder are the ONLY team in the West above .500 on the road. The ONLY team. They are 10-8 which seems pretty “meh” but in context of the rest of the conference it looks pretty solid. I never recall seeing the standings this bunched up to this level this deep into a season. There is basically no true separation 1-8 and you can actually go all the way to the current 14 seed (Wolves) to find a team that can still reasonably consider making a playoff run. The Suns are literally the only team in West that should already have an eye on next year. So the door is both wide open for the Thunder and simultaneously close to slamming in their face. I bet we will slowly begin to see some separation being to form and with the Warriors struggling and Lebron out for awhile with his groin injury, now might be a good time for OKC to make a move. Weird scheduling ahead with the back to back home and home with Dallas Sunday/Monday. The Mavs are an extreme example of what I mentioned earlier— they are 14-3 at home and 2-13 on the road. That’s absurd. Hopefully PG is ready to go Sunday night; it would be hard to like their chances at Dallas without him.

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Ed Kleese